Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two Little Steps

Another small step in my remodel project - the stairs leading from the front hall into the family room.

I removed the ruined carpet only to discover that the treads, at 10-1/2 inches deep, were almost flush with the risers. My initial plan to paint them wouldn't work. So I bought a couple hickory treads, 11-1/2 inches wide, finished them with water-borne urethane made for floors, and installed them. Also touched up the trim with some Duration in Extra White.

They aren't terrific, but they are certainly better than before.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Piano Room Remodel


The piano room (aka the living room or front room) remodel is complete.

This is the least-used room in our house. Even still, the carpet was shot. The original paint was tired. The curtains were dusty and had never been cleaned. It needed to be updated, with new colors and better materials.

We settled on solid wood. Our basement is dry, heated and air conditioned, with its air continuously circulated throughout the house, so our house is a fine candidate for wood floors. We are lucky to have a flooring mill about an hour away. I spent the better part of a year ordering and examining flooring samples from all over. I taught myself what to look for and how to tell quality from junk. If I have a fault, it's that I can study a topic to death.

Once we settled on solid flooring, that I would install myself, we had to pick a species and finish. Brazilian cherry is all the rage, maybe to the point of being dated. Acacia looks nice, but doesn't grow tall, resulting in many short boards. But, really, one of my fears was having a couple tons of wood dropped off at the end of my driveway, in whatever weather, for me to deal with. Bah. For us, a local mill with local products would do just fine.

So off to Sheoga we went to look at flooring. We have a lot of cherry in our house. Cherry kitchen. Cherry master bathroom. I like cherry. It's easy to work with and dimensionally stable. My wife, however, thought it was "too red" and chose hickory, instead. Character hickory, with knots and veins and what-not.

I chose the paint color (Temperate Taupe by Sherwin-Williams). The ceiling got painted white.

So, for $1000 of flooring and a few hundred in tools, paint, etc. we have an entirely new room.
I have the rest of the house to attack, in a similar manner, this winter and spring.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The lights come on with an audible "click." I was already awake. Waiting.

"Every day is an adventure! Every meal a feast! Every paycheck a lottery! Now get out of those racks."

Ah yes. I am on board the USS Little Rock. A Cleveland-class cruiser converted to a missile cruiser and flagship. The latter means that there is additional superstructure, replacing a few guns, to tack on Admiral's Quarters a deck below navigation.

The Medina Guides spent Saturday evening through Sunday morning on the ship, moored next to the destroyer USS the Sullivans and the submarine USS Croaker. The Sullivans were five brothers, serving on a ship in the Pacific fleet during WWII. They were lost off Guadalcanal. The destroyer was named after them. The submarine took out the ship that took out the brothers.

We weren't there alone. We were fifty-eight, but there were over two hundred hands on board, mostly scouts.

The weather was cold and wet, so whatever comfort the ship provided was welcome.

The overnight included a simple dinner. Hands-on exhibit of firearms (I was drawn towards the Enfield and the BAR - familiar to me only through video games). Three different movies in different rooms. Lights out at 10:30, lights on at 6:30. A simple breakfast and your run of the place for as long as you'd like.

I loved being able to explore. After the movie, I struck out on my own and quickly found myself alone. I wanted to find my way to the bridge. That's how I discovered the Admiral's Quarters, the map room, and the bridge. It was odd being up there, alone, in the dark, with the cold Buffalo wind whipping past the windows. I could see some of the city lights, but it wasn't a good vantage for a cityscape.

I could easily imagine what it must have been like to serve on her during wartime. I was glad it was only one night, for me.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Steve's Bed

For the last couple months, my project was to make a bed for my son to last him the rest of his life. It needed to be sturdy. I wanted it to have storage. It should be neutral to go with many decors, but interesting on its own.

I had the basic design. Two boxes for the sides, simple head and foot boards, toe kick frame underneath to prevent things from rolling under the bed. I was planning to make it from poplar and plywood, painted with a black and white motif. Jeff convinced me to make it from brown, wormy maple. It's harder than poplar, interesting in its own right, and less expensive.

Steve already has a maple changing table, so it would kinda fit in. Not an exact match, but he likely won't be taking his changing table with him.

Because of its solid design, I made the bed in five main pieces: two side boxes, head board, foot board, and frame. The boxes overhang the frame and are kept aligned with blocking along the inside edge. The boards have threaded inserts match drilled to through holes at the box ends, so the boards are bolted from the inside and no hardware shows from the outside. Each box is designed with three compartments, the middle one having a shelf at mid height.

The maple is finished with a light stain and several coats of acrylic. Lighting sanding it by hand using 320 grit made for a smooth finish. Steve still needs a bed that is easy to clean.

Overall, it was a good project. One that I am very proud of. It was, also, a real pain to do the final assembly since the inserts have a way for not setting in perpendicular to the wood face. Matching those up blind, while on your hands and knees and hoisting an eighty pound box with one hand made for good exercise but left me surly, too. It was quite the work out to move those pieces up two flights of stairs from my basement to his room. I didn't have the luxury of doing the box assembly upstairs, like I did for my bathroom, because these pieces were bigger and required more woodworking.

Hope calls it Frankenstein's Bed due to its massive, Gothic styling.

Now it's done and I can start worrying about my next project - reflooring and painting the house. I already have the wood on order and am scheduled to pick up my first batch in a couple weeks. Yikes!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Traveling with a Special Needs Child

My son is twelve, and has multiple handicaps. In the current parlance, he is developmentally delayed but he is non-verbal, not toilet trained, and small-statured. He is also ambulatory, well-adjusted, and takes direction well. He is as atypical as they come.

So what is it like traveling with him?

Vacationing with him has been generally successful. We always fear that he will have an explosive bowel movement at an inconvenient time, but although that fear is not unfounded it has rarely occurred (he did get a new set of socks at Disney, so rare doesn't mean never). Still, this is what we have done with them.

Lake Nippissing
A cabin in the woods, on the bank of a river. Since he was with us the whole time, there were no problems. He enjoyed the playgrounds at Callander and North Bay.

Turks and Caicos
We enjoyed a stay at Beaches Resorts in Turks and Caicos. The kids program staff was wonderful towards our son. He would run towards the kids area every morning. The only problem we encountered was immigration and customs. Our son hates waiting in line and ended up bawling inconsolably.

Disney World
Steve melts down in lines, so we obtained a pass that allowed us to skip the lines. That helped, but the heat and the walking made him grumpy and whiny. Dark rides scared him, fast rides thrilled him.

Niagara Falls
This was a short fall trip. Christmas decorations were out on the Canadian side. The hotel had a nice pool. This was an easy excursion for us to make.

Seattle and Vancouver
He liked the Space Needle. Would have enjoyed swimming in Vancouver, but the pools were closed due to a city worker strike.

Nickelodeon Resort (visited Orlando amusement parks other than Disney) and Sarasota
Big breakfasts and pools at Nickelodeon. He did well at Sea World and Universal. Loved swimming at the beach in Sarasota. Fun trip.

Stayed at the Beaches Resort in Negril. Had a babysitter the whole week (for about $200) who helped him participate in kids' activities and took him swimming. He had a blast. Same melt down in immigration, though.

Washington DC
Lots of walking and looking at things beyond his understanding and interests, but he did well to endure it knowing that he would be rewarded with pool time in the evening.

He enjoyed swimming in the pool and the ocean.

Boston and Acadia
Lots of walking in Boston during a heat wave, but he liked Riding the Ducks. Also enjoyed Lulu the Lobster Boat out of Bar Harbor.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
No swimming, but horseback riding and boating were his favorites. He generally tolerated the hiking.

As you can see, we've been able to enjoy a wide variety of trips with only minor allowances for his handicaps. There are things we just cannot do with him, though. We cannot go white water rafting. We cannot enjoy a day at Cedar Point as a family. But I would encourage those with special needs people in their lives to give it a go with a bit of extra planning.

Edit: you can cross off Cedar Point from the things Stephen can't do. He has been able to enjoy riding the roller coasters there with his special needs high school class using their virtual line system.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Next Year's Vacation

We've selected and put down a deposit on next year's vacation. We are going on a Caribbean cruise. It has been decades since my last, and only, cruise - a three-day jaunt on a Carnival party ship.

So long ago that I wore a European style Speedo without any sense of irony. Or, like I hate to point out, my last cruise was a hundred pounds ago.

This should be interesting.

Not only do I anticipate this to be a fun-filled vacation for everyone, it will be the most freedom our daughter has had on vacation. Not that we plan to just let her loose. Bratty, obnoxious kids can ruin others' good time. But with some monitoring of her behavior, she will be allowed, if not encouraged, to seek her own fun.

Another special thing about this cruise is that we've selected the (current) largest cruise ship. For me, the ship is the destination. There is a bit of buyer's remorse at play. Perhaps we could have saved some dinar by booking a Freedom-class ship (which was the biggest up to three years ago) with, essentially, the same services. But for me, there's an attraction to the machine.

I remember that Carnival cruise. That ship, too, was either the largest or nearly so in its time. And it cowed me. The ship's size I found daunting. Last time I was at Kennedy, the sight of those huge cruise ships at port was second only to the shuttle launch I got to experience.

This may be my kids' only cruise, so forgive me for spoiling them this once. Steve may never take another ocean cruise. Sarah may do so as an adult, provided she has the resources and interest. For me, this will only be my second but perhaps not my last.

New Project

My new project is Stephen's bed. The goal is to make him a twin bed that will last him his lifetime. My original plan was to use painted plywood, but Jeff convinced me to use maple, instead, for its durability.

To make things even easier, we went with prefinished plywood. To add character (and keep costs lower) we chose wormy, brown maple for the trim and posts.

So my job is to turn that pile of wood into a sturdy (and damn heavy) bed.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Last Day in the Tetons

Summit of Signal Mountain
It was our last day of our vacation. The next day was all travel. We started with a short drive to the top of Signal Mountain, which overlooks Jackson Hole. You can see most of the valley from up there.

After that, we grabbed our snacks and rented a boat. We used that to tool around Jackson Lake. We took off from west from the Signal Mountain marina to Moran Bay, swung north toward Pelican Bay, circled around the island off Leek's marina and worked our way back. We saw elk and pelicans on this trip, which was about twenty-four miles all told.

Approaching Moran Bay

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the boating. It was a nice activity for the whole family. Later, we went for a scenic drive and another pizza at Leek's. This was one of our more memorable trips and will, for different reasons, be a favorite of ours.

Sarah at the helm
Hope steering the boat
Sarah playing at the water's edge
The Ansel Adams view of the Tetons

Leaving Yellowstone

Road elk
So it was with some measure of sadness that we left Yellowstone. One of its surprising features, to me, had been the variety of it all. Every area had a distinct and different look about it. The Lake Hotel was elegant. The small thermal basins of West Thumb and Mud Volcano were entirely different. The Canyon area had a very camper-like feel, despite the seventies chic design of the lodge and cabins. Mammoth and Old Faithful areas were tourist choked. Hayden Valley was full of buffalo. Roosevelt was very cowboy western, and rustic to a fault. Norris was a valley laid to waste whereas the Old Faithful geyser basins were flat plains. In the quiet morning, the entire landscape around Old Faithful smokes and steams. There were beautiful vistas driving along Blacktail Deer Plateau and around Mount Washburn. One was hemmed in by regrown pine across the Central Plateau. The landscape was all tumbled boulders around Golden Gate.

Our little cabin in the Tetons
But that was behind us now. It was time to enter a different park with its own, different look and feel.

We were headed to Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park.

On our way out of the park, an elk did her best to mimic a road buffalo. We had only seen a couple elk in Yellowstone, but would see more in the Tetons. They are more skittish than they were before wolves were reintroduced to the parks. Now that they are hunted, they run at the slightest disturbance.

Signal Mountain Marina
Mountains. A small set of mountains rising almost straight up, without benefit of foothills. When a child thinks of mountains, this is what they picture. Sudden peaks, without reason, a bit of snow on them even in the middle of a hot summer. Gorgeous.

Our little cabin was near the water, across from which loomed Mount Moran.

We opted for an evening float trip down the Snake River. It wasn't a well-received plan by all. My daughter had grown tired of looking at things, hearing about things, etc. She just wanted some quiet, family time. So we hemmed and hawed. But hearing that only we were interested, we decided to go ahead. A private tour for just us.

View from the Snake River
Kids oaring the raft
Stephen enjoys being the guide

Mount Moran
The famous Ansel Adams photograph of the Tetons and the Snake River was taken over a section of river that we rode, so we had a somewhat different vantage of the same spot. Since we were alone, my kids got a chance to oar the raft. Along the way we saw several elk, a bald eagle, and a couple beavers. It was a relaxing way to end the day.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

I Shall Make This

I saw these tables at the Snow Lodge. I will make us one. Maybe out of oak instead of pine, though. The design is really simple, actually. Gives me an excuse to buy a chisel, too.

Geysers All Day

Old Faithful
Waking at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, we dedicated the day to a geyser hike. I was developing blisters on the toes of both feet, but I bandaged myself up with mole skin and made the most of it. I'll be damned if I was going to let something as trivial as pain keep me from seeing this. Besides, my family was fighting off a cold so they were being troopers, too.

So, one last push before taking it easy the rest of the way.

After breakfast, we watched Old Faithful, again, then pressed on to see the thermal features of the Upper Basin.

Roughly following the Firehole, we made our way to Morning Glory Pool, then back a slightly different route to see what we had bypassed on the way out there.

By the time we got back, I was hurting and everyone was ready for lunch. I ended up cutting holes in the bottoms of my toes to drain them, then I bandaged myself up as good as I could to let me continue for the afternoon. We took a scenic drive along past Firehole Lake and Canyon, then stopped at the Midway Geyser Basin.

There we saw Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool and the Grand Prismatic Spring. I, also, counted nine lost hats.

By day's end, we had seen enough of the thermal features of Yellowstone. Surely, we did not even attempt to see them all, but after awhile every hot, bubbling pool looks like the previous hot bubbling pool. Just like your first bison is magical, the twentieth one nice, the fiftieth one an irritation if it's blocking the road.

Still, upon leaving the next morning Hope wished to see Old Faithful just one more time. The rest of us thought she was nuts.

Old Faithful Inn and the Upper Basin
Old Faithful from a distance

Steve and Jim at Giant Geyser

Morning Glory

Shield Spring

Us in front of Castle Geyser

A hot spring pool

Firehole Lake
Grand Prismatic Spring


Leaving our Western Cabin in the Canyon area, we spent the day exploring geyser territory.

Norris Basin
Our first stop was the Norris Geyser Basin - the hottest part in the park. Pools as caustic as battery acid, heated to boiling, turned entire valleys into wastelands. The juxtaposition of such alien features nestled in high range pine forest made this all the more interesting and bizarre. This was evidence of earth's magma core finding a thin spot in the crust.

A hot spring at Norris

A geyser in the forest

After Norris, we had a quiet lunch at a wooded stop. Then we drove along the Firehole River to the geyser basins that contain Old Faithful and several other major geysers. We got to witness an Old Faithful eruption before dinner before settling in for the evening.

Although one typically associates Iceland and Scandinavia with geysers and hot springs, more than half the world's geysers are located right here, in Yellowstone.

There is another major thermal area under Lake Yellowstone, completely hidden from view by several hundred feet of water.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful Inn is one of the more interesting buildings I've seen. Several stories of open rafters support it's steep roof. An open staircase provides access to a parapet on its peak. Since it is closed to the public, I can only imagine the view from up there.
Interior of the Old Faithful Inn